Lumad killings welcome new CHR leadership

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The worsening cases of human rights violations against indigenous peoples in Mindanao welcomed the new leadership of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).

Lawyer Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon, who replaced former Akbayan representative Loretta Ann Rosales as CHR chief in June, wasted no time in initiating a probe on the crisis that displaced thousands of lumads in Mindanao.

Following the brutal killing of a school director and two community lumad leaders by alleged paramilitary forces in Surigao del Sur, Gascon made an appeal to the government to address the humanitarian crisis in the south.

He called on law enforcers to pursue the perpetrators in the killing of Emerito Samacra, executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture (ALCADEV), and community leaders Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo in September.

Later that month, Gascon – along with other officials of the CHR – held a dialogue with lumad leaders and members of human rights groups to discuss the worsening crisis.

“The situation is getting grave… We need to provide education to the children who are there. People are getting sick, so our Department of Health needs to assist,” Gascon said.

“But over the long term, what they need is peace of mind. They need to know that if they go back to their communities, they will be safe,” he added.

The CHR chief called for a public inquiry to understand the root causes of the incidents that displaced thousands of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands.


In October, hundreds of lumads arrived in Metro Manila to call on the government to stop the supposed militarization of their communities and put an end to human rights violations in Mindanao.

Participants of Manilakbayan 2015, which included lumads from various communities in Mindanao and their supporters from other parts of the country, held a month-long camp-out in the nation’s capital.

They stayed for a week at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City before transferring to Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila.

Due to the cancellation of their permit in Manila during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, they moved to the Baclaran Redemptorist Church, where they staged a protest as world leaders arrived for the leaders’ summit.

Groups called for an end to militarization in lumad communities after thousands were displaced due to an ongoing armed conflict between government forces and the communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.

Several lumad leaders have been killed by paramilitary groups allegedly created by the military to hunt down NPA rebels.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has denied the allegations and attributed the killings to an ongoing tribal conflict.

Caught in the middle

Citing initial information gathered by its probe, the CHR said the lumads have become collateral damage in the ongoing conflict between government and rebel forces in the south.

The commission noted that both the AFP and the NPA have recruited indigenous peoples for combat.

“From 2001 to September 2015, at least 35 cases of extrajudicial killings involving 59 members of the IP community in Mindanao have been reported to the CHR for investigation. Of these, ten cases were allegedly perpetrated by the AFP, while eight cases were attributed to the NPA,” said the CHR.

“Thus, neither side can claim to have the moral high ground to attribute excesses on the other,” it added.

The CHR condemned the killings of members of the lumad community, including that of Manobo Mayor Dario Otaza and his son, who were killed by the NPA for his participation in counter-insurgency efforts of the government.

It called on the government to stop all cases of violations perpetrated against lumads, and refrain from further exploiting them for partisan political ends.

CHR also called on the government to uphold the right of the lumads to self-determination and recognize their role as natural stewards of the Philippine environment.

The agency noted that mineral deposits are mostly found in ancestral domains of lumads, and that these are slowly being encroached upon by mining companies.


Rosales and the rest of the commissioners ended their term in May.

A month later, Gascon was appointed the new chairman.

Prior to his appointment, Gascon was a member of the Human Rights Victims Claims Board, the body created to identify and process the claims of the victims of human rights abuses during the Marcos regime.

A student activist during the Marcos dictatorship, Gascon served as undersecretary for political affairs of President Aquino until 2014.

He also served as director-general of the Liberal Party (LP) from 2008 to 2011 and undersecretary of the Department of Education from 2002 to 2005.

Gascon graduated law from the University of the Philippines in 1996, and Master of Law (International Law) from the University of Cambridge in London.

Gascon said he will take a leave from the LP to ensure the independence of the commission.

Appointed with him were new CHR commissioners Karen Gomez Dumpit, Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, Leah Tanodra-Armamento and Roberto Cadiz.

They will head the commission until May 5, 2022.

Mamasapano probe, Morong 43

Before stepping down, Rosales initiated an investigation into the Mamasapano incident that claimed the lives of at least 67 people.

Based on the data gathered by the CHR, at least five civilians and 18 rebels, in addition to the 44 members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Forces, died in the clashes.

Another 1,500 families have been displaced as a result of the operation, added the agency.

“My marching orders to the CHR team, working in tandem with regional human rights commission, is for them to ensure that the results of the investigation shall conform to the highest internationally accepted standard in human rights monitoring,” Rosales said.

The results of the probe have yet to be released.

Also this year, the CHR confirmed that torture was committed against members of the so-called “Morong 43” following their supposed illegal arrest in 2010 for allegedly being members of the NPA.

In a 26-page resolution, the CHR said its investigation showed that some of those arrested had “abrasions and contusions in different parts of their bodies, like wrists, forearms and head, which corroborated their account that they were blindfolded and handcuffed tightly for a long period.”

The commission said the rights of the medical workers were violated when they were illegally arrested in Morong, Rizal on Feb. 6, 2010 based on a search warrant issued by a judge from a local court in Imus, Cavite.

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